Major Joe Nolan heads a rescue mission in the South Pacific to recover a downed atomic rocket. The crew crashlands on a mysterious island, and spends much time rock-climbing. They meet up with a native girl, a big lizard, and some dinosaurs.
Cesar Romero ... Maj. Joe Nolan
Hillary Brooke ... Marla Stevens
Chick Chandler ... Lt. Danny Wilson
John Hoyt ... Michael Rostov
Acquanetta ... Native Girl
Sid Melton ... Sgt. Willie Tatlow
Whit Bissell ... Stanley Briggs
Hugh Beaumont ... Robert Phillips
Murray Alper ... Air Police Sergeant
Sam Newfield was one of the, if not THE, most prolific directors in American film history. Counting features and two-reelers, Newfield racked up close to 300 films in a career that started shortly after the turn of the century and ended in 1958. Newfield churned out movies so quickly and on such a regular basis that one studio he worked for, PRC (owned by his brother, Sigmund), tacked the names "Sherman Scott" and "Peter Stewart" on much of Newfield's output so it wouldn't look like one man was making almost all of PRC's product. As can be expected, much of Newfield's work is of little or no importance (his Buster Crabbe westerns for PRC in the '40s are especially worthless), but every so often something would happen and Newfield would turn out a film that was coherent, professional-looking and even (gasp!) entertaining. He was assigned by producer Sam Katzman to the Tim McCoy series of westerns for Puritan in the mid-1930s, and some of them are actually tidy little gems--tight, humorous, well-staged little examples of the best of the B-western. "The Lost Continent" is among Newfield's best work--in fact, it probably IS Newfield's best work. Working with a larger budget than he was usually accustomed to (even given the fact that it was a cheapo Lippert production), and given a stronger cast than he got in many of his films, Newfield manages to do quite a good job with what he is given. The story (an Air Force plane trying to recover a lost missile that has landed in what turns out to be a prehistoric jungle, complete with dinosaurs) is nothing much, but Newfield's pacing is quite steady, the dialogue isn't as mind-numbing as the usual Newfield extravaganza, and he actually manages to generate some suspense (a first for him) with the Russian character played by John Hoyt (is he or isn't he a Commie spy?). The crude stop-motion dinosaurs are cheesy and badly done, but since they seem to have been thrown in at the last minute, they don't really detract from the film all that much. If you're familiar with Sam Newfield's work, this will be a revelation to you. If you're not, check it out to see what is the best film in an otherwise almost completely undistinguished career.
In its day this film probably did appeal to teenagers looking for some vicarious adventure. "Lost Continent" is your typical 1950's Saturday afternoon matinée movie. With all that walking and climbing the characters do, there's anticipation of what they might find, and that anticipation probably lent some tension to the plot for viewers back then. Furthermore, no one could have foreseen CGI. The film's dinosaurs thus were probably quite impressive to kids in those days.
But, by current standards, "Lost Continent" is bland, unimaginative, slow, and hopelessly cheap looking. The story, about scientists who go in search of a downed rocket, is razor thin. It's really just a rehash of "The Lost World" (1925), except that in "Lost Continent", WWII rocket technology is the rationale for the exploration.
The action takes forever to get going. There's lots of back story and routine human drama scenes, all of which could have been edited out. But in that case, the film's run time would have only been about thirty minutes.
In addition to the thin story, another problem is the cinematography. In the many, many rock climbing scenes, there are too many close-up shots. Some distance shots would have provided at least some sense of vertigo, and therefore could have heightened the tension and suspense.
As cinema entertainment, "Lost Continent" cannot compete with more recent sci-fi. The film now is little more than a historic relic of a bygone era when viewers were much easier to please.
"Lost Continent" turned out to be a reasonably solid film, which was a surprise for me since I knew A) it was directed by mega-hack Sam Neufeld and B)it was an early target for Mystery Science Theater 3000 (in their 2nd season, when they really hit their stride).
So let's get the bad stuff out of the way first - rock climbing, Sid Melton, and unconvincing dinosaur animation. Anyone who has seen "LC" all the way through knows that the movie stops dead in the second act and subjects the viewer to endless scenes of the characters scrambling up a mountainside on their way to the crashed "atomic rocket" at the top. I am sure that the point was to help the viewer experience the struggle and fatigue of an 'epic' journey...but the climbing scenes are staged in a plodding, pedestrian manner that kills any interest the first 20 minutes managed to generate. It's worse than watching paint dry. Things actually get moving a little once the crew makes it to the top, but man...rock climbing was sloooooow going.
2nd, Sid Melton. I know that Melton got a lot of work in various TV shows and movies calling for comedy relief. And I remember he was pretty good at times (on "Danny Thomas", etc). But he's just not funny to my "modern" sensibilities...in fact, he's really irritating. His performance pulls the movie down a couple of rating points all by itself. His role is pure cardboard, his dialog is completely lame, and he basically does sad-sack military enlisted man "schtick" here, purely on auto-pilot. I kept praying for his immediate and painful death in "LC". Then again, I'm not sure Elvis channeling Jim Carey could have saved this part, so I don't want to trash poor Sid too hard. I hope he's happily retired and living on his residuals somewhere.
3rd, the dinosaur animation. I am sure this was the biggest expense in the film, but once you've seen Ray Harryhausen, you can't tolerate stuff like this anymore. There are no credits for the animation sequences in the credits, so it's possible that the producers (and the animators) felt the same way. It was also kind of irritating to have a brontosaurus/apatosaur attack the party and try to eat Hugh Beaumont when any six year old could tell you that the bronto was a gentle, timid vegetarian. Apparently, Neufeld didn't have any six year olds around to act as consultants.
As for the "good": everyone else here does a workmanlike job of getting their dialog over and filling out their stereotyped roles. I'd never seen Romero in a "straight" dramatic role before, and I have to admit, he's pretty dashing. He has great hair, and he knows how to rock the mustache. If you were looking for someone to "do" the Errol Flynn role in your movie, Romero would be an obvious choice. Whit Bissell and Beaumont are their usual dignified, genial selves, and the guy who plays the Russian rocket scientist brings a certain humanity and nobility to his lines that a lot of other actors might not.
And c'mon...it's rockets and dinosaurs and manly men on a manly adventure, how could this movie's intended audience (sleepy male adolescents) NOT love it? As I said, MST3000 covered this one early on...if fact, I remember that the episode where they tackled "Lost Continent" was the first MST I ever saw. And yes, the movie deserved all the barbs, japes, and witticisms they tossed at it, but it still has a certain quality that elevates it far above most of their other fare...even if it hasn't aged too well. But let's be fair...how well do you think Cameron's "Titanic" will hold up to viewers in 2056??
# Some sequences were originally tinted green on the original release prints.